More than 18 months after the start of the war, Ukraine is on track to overtake Russia in the size of its main battle tank fleet, Bloomberg reported this week, citing a compilation of various data sources and defense statements.
The Military Balance 2023, an annual report by the think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Russia started the war in February 2022 with 3,417 tanks available, compared to Ukraine’s 987. However, heavy Russian losses and a steady stream of donations from Ukraine’s Western allies have helped even the balance in the intervening months.
Oryx, an open defense intelligence source that only records confirmable losses, said Russia has lost at least 2,091 tanks so far, while Ukraine has lost 558. According to the source, the latter has also managed to capture 546 main battle tanks and has already received 471 new Western vehicles, with hundreds more to be added.
According to the latest Bloomberg estimates, Ukraine has 1,500 active main battle tanks, compared to Russia’s 1,400.
But those figures, while encouraging for Ukraine and its supporters, do not take into account the tanks that Russia has no doubt removed from its warehouses to make up for its losses, military experts have said. And Russia’s supply of older tanks is probably plentiful, they said.
“The Russians, like the Soviets, never throw anything away,” Mark Cancian, a retired US Marine Corps colonel and senior security program adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a March interview with Insider. .
In his comments this week, Cancian said that for this reason he believes that Russia still has a numerical advantage over Ukraine when inactive main battle tanks are taken into account.
Throughout the war, Russia has mainly relied on four different models of tanks: T-64, T-72, T-80 and T-90, with the T-72 being the largest part of its fleet thanks to years of production from the Soviet era and more modern updates to the vehicles, as Insider previously reported.
It is not clear how many tanks Russia has already removed from its warehouses nor how many vehicles it has in storage to continue using them.
But it’s not just the number of tanks that separates Ukraine from Russia, according to Mick Ryan, a retired Australian Army major-general and military strategist, but also the quality.
“Certainly, the influx of Western armored vehicles gives them a qualitative advantage,” Ryan told Insider about Ukraine.
While Russia is going back to its past to replenish its depleted supplies, Ukraine is sporting high-quality NATO tanks as replacements for its lost vehicles.
“The Ukrainian tank fleet probably has as much combat power as the Russians,” Cancian said.
Battlefield data suggests that most of the tanks in play are not currently used in tank-versus-tank engagements, Ryan said, but instead are used to support infantry attacks, engage other vehicles, or provide indirect fire support.
Yet despite its outdated designs and poor systems, even an ancient Russian tank would be an ugly sight to a dismounted Ukrainian infantryman, Ryan said.
The ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to trudge as the country tries to break through the Russian defenses. But if they manage to break through the Russian fortifications, the new advantage of the Ukrainian tanks could come in handy, according to Cancian.
“Once in the open, Ukraine can use these tanks and their superior firepower to gain a lot of territory,” he told Insider.